West Chester Business Improvement District

West Chester: Historic town with thriving food scene

West Chester Business Improvement District in West Chester, Pennsylvania, is one of the three winners of the 2017 Great American Main Street Award from the National Main Street Center Inc., the country’s leading nonprofit dedicated to commercial district revitalization. The organization was recognized for its efforts preserving the area’s historic and cultural heritage while modernizing the neighborhood into a fine-dining destination. The awards were made possible through support from PNC Bank.
(L) Street festivals add vitality to downtown West Chester. (R) Sidewalk dining is a hallmark of the West Chester foodie scene.

“West Chester’s transformation over the past 17 years has been truly remarkable,” said Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center. “The town has always had great architectural heritage but under West Chester Business Improvement District’s leadership, it has grown into a haute-cuisine mecca, drawing not just locals but visitors from surrounding areas.”

Sidewalk dining is a hallmark of the city’s thriving food scene, combining the best of West Chester—delicious eats and historic architecture. West Chester has 64 restaurants and more than 75 retail stores all within walking distance of the downtown area. In addition, the annual Chester County Restaurant festival attracts foodies from all over the country.

“It was a challenge to bring a new vitality to our downtown more than a decade ago so it’s especially exciting to now gain recognition for our hard work,” said Malcolm Johnstone, executive director of West Chester Business Improvement District. “The completion of the historic courthouse renovation and the opening of a new hotel and theater are just some visible signs of the area’s revitalization but it truly was the partnership between local, regional and national organizations that helped West Chester flourish into a vibrant community.”

Since 2000, under the leadership of West Chester Business Improvement District, the town has improved the business vacancy rate from 22 percent to 4 percent, adding close to 250 new businesses and created some 1,000 jobs for the area.

Steeped in history
Located 35-mile west of Philadelphia, West Chester is a lush green town with 4,200 architectures listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The town is proud of its collection of buildings designed by Thomas U. Walter, who later went on to design the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Several structures around West Chester feature Walter’s Greek Revival-style including the First Presbyterian Church of West Chester, Bank of Chester County and Chester County Courthouse.

Tours of the city’s historic architecture are available thanks to local government efforts. In 2002, the West Chester Historical and Architectural Review Board published a 75-page design guidelines for historic preservation. In 2005, West Chester invested $2.3 million and renovated the West Chester Public Library, which was built in 1888.

The transformation that West Chester has gone through reflects our country’s development from a simple agricultural community to an industrial community over the past two centuries,” Johnstone said. “We’re proud to maintain our historic heritage while continuously growing as a vibrant community that connects people from all walks of life.”

(L) The iconic Chester County Courthouse (1846) design by Thomas U. Walter. (R) The up-scale Hotel Warner, part of the Historic Hotels of America, was repurposed from the old Warner Theater (1930) to provide 80 rooms for visitors.

Part of West Chester’s charm is that it’s home to West Chester University, which was ranked among the top 50 college towns by College Rank in 2016. The university welcomes over 15,000 students each year, including international students from more than 40 countries. The diverse student population coupled with strong academic credentials has attracted entrepreneurs, startups and high-tech companies to the area and created job opportunities.

“West Chester is like a microcosm of a diverse, metropolitan city. When you walk on the street, within few steps, you can experience something different,” Johnstone said. “Our diversity is a blend of the old and modern, and multiple ethnic cultures. We are proud of the beautiful friendships among neighbors of all origins.”